5 Best UX Design Portfolio Practices

Photo by Jason Goodman on Unsplash

In a talk describing his experience landing a UX design position at Google, Andrew Doherty emphatically shares a guiding principle that prospective UX designers should never forget when applying for jobs:

“We need to UX ourselves. Our resume. Our portfolios. Our process. Our interviews. Everything”

This means that the same holistic creativity that goes into user experience design should also be utilized when UX designers put together their applications for new UX design positions.

Arguably the most important part of the application package is the portfolio. When applying for a job at a world-class web design firm, you want your portfolio to demonstrate not only who you are but the skills you have and the type of work you can do. For those just entering the job market, this puzzle piece may not be intuitive. For those who’ve worked for a single web design company for years and are looking to switch workplaces, the tips and tricks for creating a portfolio have likely changed. Regardless of your situation, we’ve compiled the most crucial UX design portfolio practices to ensure that your portfolio stands out in today’s highly competitive job market.

1. Appealing and Accessible Aesthetics

Put — how a portfolio looks speaks louder than the words within it. This is especially true for UX design portfolios. The aesthetics of your portfolio will catch the eye of those who see it quicker than the actual projects you include in it. This is why the visual appeal of your UX design portfolio should be a central concern. There are a few simple things you can do to ensure your portfolio looks good to the discerning eye of an employer and stands out without going overboard on creativity.

  • Use a standard, familiar format. A difficult-to-navigate portfolio won’t throw off companies reviewing your portfolio but instead will find everything they are looking for intuitively. This ease of use will allow other aspects of your portfolio to stand out without being drowned out by formatting.
  • Embrace minimalism. Don’t visually overload your portfolio, but instead, use fewer visuals with more intention. Negative space is a friend, not a foe. Minimalism doesn’t mean you forego creativity but rather indicates that the visuals and information you provide have more room to be understood.
  • Use images. Images are important because they can convey a lot of meaning about who you are as a designer without text. Image placement and choice not only tell someone who you are as a person but can also describe something about your UX design skills. Think carefully about which images you choose and where you place them.

For a good and clear example, take a look at the UX design portfolio of Niksa Korper Zemva. His four images are in a minimal, standard format. The colors compliment one another and link intuitively to the curating pages. This portfolio is an excellent example of appealing and accessible aesthetics for a UX design portfolio.

2. Narrativize You and Your Process

Your portfolio describes who you are and how you work. Getting these across effectively is critical.

To ensure that whoever sees your UX design portfolio understands exactly who you are and what you’re capable of doing, you must structure a clear and tangible narrative. Every single piece of your portfolio should fit into a larger coherent story you are constructing. This narrative describes YOU and your design PROCESS. You do not need to overwhelm your portfolio with information, but instead, carefully curate and stitch together the essential pieces.

A viewer of your UX design portfolio should immediately get a feel for who you are. Usually, on the first page, a prospective UX designer will include skill sets, a small introduction, and maybe a textual description of your projects. There’s room for creativity here. But consider this description as a textual dimension of the larger narrative you’re visually structuring — your style, your design approach, and your experience can all be communicated through text and visuals.

When a viewer looks at the projects you’ve worked on, they should be able to get some insight into what goes on in your head. Take the UX design portfolio of Simon Pan, for instance. When describing the project he worked on at Uber, he goes through the details of each step. He explains his involvement and how this involvement affected the design element in question. A viewer gets an intimate feel for how he works as a UX designer. But each project connects to the image of who he is as a designer — this is how the narrative dimension traverses who he is and how he works. These elements make a UX design portfolio strong.

3. Show Your Skills

When designing UX, your job is to curate the user’s experience on a website or application. This is the creative practice of taking a larger vision and weaving it into the design elements. For your UX design portfolio, you always want to follow the earlier article's advice that Andrew Doherty suggested — UX yourself. What this means in practice is you want to demonstrate your skillset — you want anyone who sees your portfolio to understand just what type of UX designer you will be. One of the main ways to do this is to do what you would do on any other UX design project. Think of yourself as a vision or a brand and the recruiter looking at your portfolio as the user.

Another way you show your skills is through the projects you choose to highlight. If you’re still early in your career or entering the job market for the first time, including mock projects is an excellent way to go. It demonstrates commitment and allows you to mold the projects and their outcomes in any way you’d like.

Make sure also to show off your strengths as a UX designer. You don’t need to include everything and anything you can do or have ever done, but instead, take the skills you’re best at and put them on display. You want your profile to demonstrate the skill sets you have that help you stand out. If you check out the UX design portfolio of Liz Wells, you’ll see not only how she’s showing who she is but doing so by leaning into her particular skill sets. Her unique design is simple but helps someone immediately get a sense of her skills.

4. Quality over quantity

At first, you might think a portfolio should include as much information as possible. But nothing could be further from the truth. A great portfolio is slick and directly to the point. It’s much better than a potential employer sees two incredible projects you’ve worked on than five mediocre ones. It’s about getting the most bang for your buck, so to speak.

Take the portfolio of this Sydney, Australia-based UX designer Elissa Santamaria. Here, her portfolio includes four projects and a description alongside her picture. The simplicity and straightforwardness allow anyone who is looking at it to focus on what they came to see and get a quick and direct first impression. This doesn’t overload any recruiter or viewer with information but instead gets everything across clearly and directly,

A useful trick in getting quality information across without tons of excess explaining is data. If you include data about your project (especially with infographics) and the outcomes, a recruiter or employer will immediately understand the qualitative effects of the work you’ve done.

5. Big picture over Details

As has already been mentioned, the key to a good UX design portfolio is the big picture you’re trying to paint and communicate. This means not every single detail that may speak to this big picture is necessary to include. Very often designers lose sight of the larger idea or image they are working to get across by focusing for hours and hours on the minutiae — or as a wise person once said, “losing the forest for the trees”.

In your project examples, make sure to highlight the steps of the process that speak the loudest and fit into the vision of yourself you want the reader of your portfolio to have. Similarly, the way your portfolio and biography are constructed should also do the same — it may not be necessary to communicate every detail about you. Instead, it’s better to map out the qualities about you and your work that are important to highlight and develop strategies for highlighting them in the portfolio. In a UX design project, your goal is to actualize a vision — you must do the same in your portfolio.

Conclusion — UX Yourself

At the end of the day, putting together a great UX design portfolio comes down to one primary strategy — applying UX design to yourself. Take all of the best practices of UX design and use them to create and curate an experience for YOU. There are endless great examples of this — but one of our favorites is the website of Swedish UX designer Tobias Ahlin Bjerrome. When you visit his site and look through his portfolio, you experience his UX design practices. There’s clear connectivity between what he is demonstrating to you about himself and the design structure. This is a premier example of how to UX yourself.

If you take the advice provided in this article to heart, your next UX design job should be right around the corner. Just remember to bring your vision of yourself to life!

– Thanks for reading!

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